3 observations after Sixers fight back in fourth to beat pesky Knicks originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Sixers' first three wins after the All-Star break were all decided well before the final minutes.
Tuesday night's 99-96 victory over the Knicks was a different story. The Sixers came back from down nine entering the final period to earn their sixth straight win overall and improve to 28-11.
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RJ Barrett misfired on a short jumper that could've tied the game with approximately 20 seconds remaining. Furkan Korkmaz was then intentionally fouled and made one of two free throws. Immanuel Quickley missed another potential game-tying shot on the ensuing possession, and the Sixers eventually sealed the deal.
Tobias Harris and Seth Curry were the Sixers' leading scorers with 30 and 20 points, respectively. Ben Simmons had 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, while Julius Randle led the Knicks with 19 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists.
The Sixers will try to extend their streak to seven Wednesday night when they play the Bucks. Here are three observations on their gritty win over New York:
The same starters the Sixers used in Sunday night’s 35-point win over the Spurs had trouble scoring in their first stint.
Danny Green, after scoring 11 of the Sixers’ first 15 points against San Antonio, missed his first five shots. The Sixers as a team started 2 for 11. New York played physical, high-effort defense, putting constant pressure far from the hoop on Green, Curry and Harris and making it difficult for the Sixers to establish a rhythm.
Both the Sixers and Knicks shot 40.9 percent from the floor in the first period, a product both of good defensive focus and wayward outside shooting. As Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey observed on Twitter, it felt like the game was taking place in a different century.
Green eventually made a shot and picked up four steals and two blocks, though his night didn’t improve much offensively. A 1-for-10 shooting performance from a starter is certainly harder to overcome with Joel Embiid (who turned 27 years old Tuesday) sidelined by a left knee bone bruise. Korkmaz closed the game over Green.
Not for the first time this season, the Sixers’ turnovers were costly, spurring New York’s transition offense. The Knicks, meanwhile, prevented the Sixers from having many easy fast-break chances as the game was mostly played on their terms. All told, the Sixers’ 12 turnovers led to 22 Knicks points. The team took excellent care of the ball down the stretch.
Relying on Harris
With the Sixers’ offense struggling late in the second quarter and the team frustrated by the officiating, Harris made two important threes and Simmons drove in for an and-one layup to tie the game.
The Knicks weren’t discouraged by that brief swing in momentum, though, scoring seven straight points and building an eight-point halftime lead. Simmons, Harris and Dwight Howard posted 34 of the Sixers’ 48 first-half points. Their teammates shot just 4 for 21 from the floor.
Curry started rolling early in the third quarter, converting a four-point play, two catch-and-shoot threes and a runner. He also made a key go-ahead three in the fourth.
As for Harris, he’s demonstrated a knack this season for coming through when the Sixers are desperate for a hoop. After a quiet stretch, he produced two key buckets late in the fourth.
They didn’t always match up because neither team minded switching, but the Harris vs. Randle matchup was a fun one to watch. Both players have developed into leaders their teams can lean on, with Randle’s passing and Harris’ ability to fight through contact to reach his preferred spots qualities that jumped out Tuesday.
Howard plays a big role
Howard had a tip-in late in the first quarter and a put-back slam early in the second.
Outside of his screening, rolling and offensive rebounding, there wasn’t much else working for the Sixers’ second unit in the first half. Former Sixer and current Knick Alex Burks, who scored 19 points, likely would’ve been a useful player for head coach Doc Rivers to call upon. On the other end of the floor, Howard and the Sixers were content to let Taj Gibson attempt open three-pointers, and he missed his first two.
That strategy was sound against a 30 percent three-point shooter but it will be interesting to see what the Sixers do without Embiid when they face a legitimate stretch five. In theory, that might be the right time to try more of Simmons at center, although Howard’s energy and production have generally been beyond reproach in recent games. He recorded 11 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks against the Knicks.
Howard played 28 minutes Tuesday, while Tony Bradley played 17. Perhaps Rivers didn’t want to dent Bradley’s confidence or overtax his 35-year-old center, but the split could arguably have been even further in Howard’s direction, especially given that Bradley didn’t have a good night. Perhaps having Howard play substantially more than Bradley but continue to start games on the bench might be Rivers’ approach moving forward.
Howard has clearly loved playing in front of fans the last two games at Wells Fargo Center. After his fourth-quarter rejection on Randle, it was hard to believe that only 3,000 or so fans were in the building.